Native guide Chino downshifts, then pats the dashboard of his 52 Chevy, as if she were a beloved child. “Vamos Mami,” He coaxes. In response, the Peugeot diesel chugs up the steep slope, climbing with the steady gait of a pack-mule.
On our left, a lush green forest of towering trees – garnished with wild flowers – rises with the Escambray mountain incline. To the right and below, a valley vista of fertile fields, squared into plots of produce and cane, peppered with mango, avocado and bananas.
Chino’s stoked. He’s bass fished once before, on distant Lake Moran. But he’s heard of Hanabanilla, and the man who regularly battles marlin and sailfish is grinning like a young boy headed to a secret fishing hole.
The cool mountain air, a product of the elevation is refreshing. To be honest, I’m a little stoked myself.
I’ve read stories about this mountain reservoir, many say the most beautiful in Cuba. Here, double-digit large-mouths are plentiful. Many believe Hanabanilla is home to the next world record.
The road levels and the mirrored surface of the mountain lake shimmers in the morning sun. I smell bass.
“There are the fishermen.” Chino points out six Cubans sitting on the rail of a paint flecked concrete bridge. Topping the dam, it’s a deteriorating monument to American engineering. Yes, we built the dam. We brought the bass too.
“With money, the monkey dances,” is a popular Cuban expression. In anticipation of a payday, the men on the bridge rise to rumba.
Chino selects, Che will be our guide. He trots up the hill to a small shack, quickly returning with half-a-jug of gas, a spinning rod, and the ignition key to his boat….. a pull rope.
Che’s is a sturdy, simple craft, pushed by a two cylinder Russian motor. Possessing neither transmission nor gearbox, its’ similarity to a modern bass rig is akin to the space shuttle and a covered wagon.
Che poles the bow toward open water, wraps the rope, yanks, and the motor roars to life.
“Fifteen to twenty bass a trip is average.” Che says. His largest, nineteen pounds, caught on a snake. When Che targets lunkers, he fishes with small snakes. These baits require a little notice.
A smattering of small boats row the shoreline and one man holds up a stringer of twenty fish. “There getting forty pesos a kilo.” Che says. They’re poaching and Che doesn’t like it. He knows the best use of this resource.
According to Che the fishing year round is good. Hanabanilla, like all Cuban lakes never cools. During big moon phases, the fish eat at night in the clear water, making them harder to feed in daylight.
Dark clouds push over the mountain, we cut our trip short. While I shot pictures and gabbed, Chino’s landed seven fish in just over an hour. These are very productive waters.